From Davis Balestracci – Some reflections...and a challenge to my readers

Published: Thu, 08/17/17

From Davis Balestracci – Some reflections...and a challenge to my readers
"What's so motivating to me is that your wisdom of culture change and performance improvement speaks to me.  Your lecture validated my values and belief as a change agent.  I brought back laughter and a sense of peace after listening to you.  Thanks so much for putting things into perspective with PASSION!  I can relate to your style ... tell it like it is."       – Seminar participant 
Hi, Folks,
I've reached one of those life landmarks – receiving my Medicare card (turning 65 next week) – and have been reflecting back...a lot. I will remain every bit as passionate about improvement and don't think I will ever formally retire; but I also doubt I will have Dr. W. Edwards Deming's tenacity to keep at it until I (hopefully) turn 93! 

I've been writing this newsletter bi-weekly since March 2009, and I think it's time to relax the formal timetable a bit (to be determined). As I was reflecting back on these past eight years, are all of my topics still relevant? I believe so.

Progress in improvement? Going back even further than eight years, I also reflected on and concluded that despite all the mind-blowing technological advances that have taken place over my 35-year career, improvement progress remains glacial. the next "magic bullet" fad du jour lurking to emerge to create further distraction from true root causes?

David Kerridge, one of most brilliant Deming thinkers in the word, had a wonderful quote: 

If we are actually trying to do the wrong thing, we may only be saved from disaster because we are doing it badly.

And the last few years, especially in healthcare, seem stuck in "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."

Good news: there has been significant evolution from "Neanderthal" to "Cro-Magnon" quality

Fortunately, "quality" has made a necessary evolution from "Neanderthal" to "Cro-Magnon." This has resulted in a quantum leap in activity, especially bolt-on quality project activity. However, the overall effect has been like speeding up evolution 10,000 years – progress, I suppose; but, in the larger scheme of things, one could hardly call it the bold, needed r-evolutionary progress that, for almost 30 years, has been continually talked about (and talked about and talked about) with empty calorie passionate lip service, especially the topic of "leadership." 

From what I have observed, technology – especially in the areas of data and allegedly intelligent statistical software – has seriously compromised critical thinking and keeps people naively and unwittingly mired deeply in "doing the wrong thing badly"...and doing it faster. Twitter and LinkedIn have become virtually vacuous.

Many alleged improvements have gotten processes only to where they should have been in the first place – that rate of improvement will not continue. Dr. Deming was also emphatic that this is not improvement.

To use an adaptation of the famous President Bill Clinton quote: 

"It's the people, Stupid!" *
* [Originally:  "The economy, Stupid!"]

Despite what you might hear at sanitized conference presentations or show-and-tell webinars, one thing hasn't changed:  cultural resistance to any change remains "disgustingly normal" and fierce

The dam of repressed emotions inherent in a Neanderthal Theory X environment has now burst. This intense emotional energy is the vital fuel needed to drive the improvement engine of process, tools, and good technical/administrative information.  Harnessing and improving the quality of this fuel is a key element in any revolutionary transformation process to true excellence.

Dr. Deming's famous 14 Points are cognizant of this. A new more Deming-based quality mutation called built-in Improvement has been trying to emerge for over 30 years. Isolated appearances of this species have been reported, but they are fleeting – "natural selection" has not been kind so far. I just hope it's not too late.

"If there are twelve clowns in a ring, you can jump in the middle and start reciting Shakespeare, but to the audience, you'll just be the thirteenth clown."  
--Adam Walinsky 

With the internet's many self-appointed, non-vetted, incompetent alleged experts and ubiquitous easily available information, software, and expensive "impressive" certifications, a complicating need has evolved for everything to be bigger, better, faster, more, now...and free. Too many people fall prey to the easy seduction of all this nonsenseBut who can blame them with this constant bombardment barely giving them time to think at all, never mind critically? Besides, this is the behavior that gets rewarded.

Painting by the numbers will never produce great art, so why should Six Sigma/Lean/Lean Six Sigma by the numbers* produce great organizations?

* Numbers, as in:
  • Going through the motions "by the numbers" ticking boxes on a checklist and passing an exam that might involve a token project to get a certification

  • Using "big data" that is the "continuous recording (of) administrative procedures" (CRAP) to manage

"Quality" and "Leadership" remain mired in tiresome hopeful platitudes being repackaged in a program du jour to look like easy answers – and attention deficit executive arrogance remains the root cause of glacial progress.

Executives need to improve the quality of their emotional fuel as well. For true excellence, they must eventually realize:

You get great employees by being worthy of great employees. 

Meanwhile, for anyone whose job involves improvement, it is time to realize that part of your role now formally involves working around this arrogance – and it can be done.

If you don't agree, I'll be blunt:  get out of improvement!  – your organization has managed to induce "learned helplessness" in your improvement efforts.

Too blunt?  OK.  (Everyone) Try this:  look at your job through a lens of personal accountability by reading QBQ! and deciding whether you want to accept or still back away from my challenge.

As Dr. Deming said:  A good company will take five years to turn around. Most will take ten.

W. Edwards Deming's improvement approach via leadership remains the most robust approach to true transformation. Yet his radically brilliant visionary mutation beyond Cro-Magnon continues to struggle for survival...and at the moment may actually be moribund. 

Despite my passionate belief in it and its enthusiastic acceptance from results-based demonstrations in my seminars, I continue to struggle sustaining that enthusiasm in post-seminar participant behavior as they go back to daily cultures that grind them down to learned helplessness via tolerated "cultural handcuffs" and resistance. 

My dear readers, aren't you getting tired of being perceived as "the 13th clown?" 

The following quote – with the help of Dr. Deming and Dr. Joseph Juran's timeless wisdom – has been an ongoing inspiration and guide in the ensuing 28 years since I first heard it at a 1989 conference: 

The words 'statistical' and 'quality' should be dropped as qualifiers because they should be givens.

Using QBQ! :  "What behaviors do I need to change?"

Isn't it time to try the new, built-in improvement mindset with a goal of building a critical mass of mutations going far beyond Cro-Magnon quality  – "doing the right things right...faster?"

My next newsletter will share some "hard knocks" lessons from a respected Quality Digest colleague that he (and I) have learned in our long careers. They are the qualities needed to be an effective improvement change agent in today's work climate.

But for now, let me give you a concrete two-part assignment to get started:

1. Print out, visibly post in your office, and start each day by reading the quote below and taking personal accountability to observe and begin to address its symptoms. Perhaps use it at improvement meetings as a warm-up to ask, "What do we continue to 'tolerate' as barriers to progress?"

Nobody plans for poor quality management solutions. But over time, harmless little decisions can derail a quality management system.   
Each time we choose to sacrifice the good of the system for one person, or allow an ineffective, outdated legacy practice to continue, we take small steps toward lower and lower standards.
When we have a culture that puts quality and environmental attainment at a lower priority than feelings and keeping the status quo, slowly we make the hundreds of decisions that eat away at total performance...
Every week tens, if not hundreds, of little decisions like these are made in a large company. Any one decision will not make or break the system. However, hundreds of decisions being made with a priority on entrenched personnel or ideas rather than the higher goals of continuous improvement will bring the system to its knees over time...
In the end, nobody plans to have poor quality or environmental performance.  It sneaks up on us...[as] the sum of so many bad decisions.    -- Jim Verzino

2. Order, read, and apply John Miller's QBQ!  – the question behind the question (No excuses! it takes less than one hour to read).  [Healthcare folks: declare a moratorium on "tools" books and obtaining certifications]  (I have no financial interests with John)
  • I smile as I think of some who may read it and sincerely say they want to apply it to their jobs, but, for whatever reason, insist it's impossible. 
  • Most of you will say:  "Boy, do I know someone (else) who needs to read this!"

I was guilty of both of these when I first read it in 2000. As John smiles in his Afterword:  if that's what you're thinking, go back and read it again.

There are no more excuses for glacial progress!

I guess I'm becoming "old and cranky" (even more of a curmudgeon, if that was possible) – except I decided it was time to (affectionately) turn some of my curmudgeonliness on you, my cherished readers. 

I've gotten tired of being "the 13th clown" and told, "Oh, but you are a very good 13th clown!" 

I apply QBQ! every day to ask:

  • Is that a perception I want people to have?  (No)

  • If that perception continues, am I going to be effective?  (No)

  • What can I do to change that perception? 
    • I've been in a constant PDSA cycle trying ways to help people succeed with eye-opening results when they go back to their toxic work environments.

    • I've written Data Sanity as a leadership road map for excellence by creating a common organizational language to engage leaders in everyday dialogue with their organizations.

Hence, my challenge today – I need YOU  as a colleague:  "I know nothing, you know too much. That makes us a great team!"

So, are some of you willing to work together with me to create that mutation of built-in improvement where the words "statistical" and "quality" are dropped because they are givens?

Data Sanity will be our laboratory.  And I will be a relentless mentor who is 100 percent committed to your visible success...and bringing back the "laughter and sense of peace" mentioned by my seminar participant's comment at the top of the newsletter.

Until next time (and do your assignment!)...

Your kindly curmudgeon,
Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 6 of Data Sanity are a solid road map for navigating and taming the challenging terrain of executive arrogance
Data Sanity: A Quantum Leap to Unprecedented Results is a unique synthesis of the sane use of data, culture change, and leadership principles to create a road map for excellence.

[US Amazon currently has it discounted 24 percent]

One of its major goal is to create a common organizational language for healthier dialogue about reducing ongoing confusion, conflict, complexity, and chaos. 
* Available as an e-book format for all e-readers, including iBook, Nook and Kindle (available only through publisher MGMA, includes downloadable .pdf)

* For UK readers who want a hard copy, it is now available on Amazon UK for  £69 with free shipping:

My publisher has informed me that there will also be an option to print on demand in Europe, Canada and Australia.  He has also lowered the price a bit in these countries.
[Any problems or questions, please e-mail Craig Wiberg at: ]
 -- Click here for a copy of its Preface and chapter summaries (also on LinkedIn)

Please know that I always have time for you and am never too answer a question, discuss opportunities for a leadership or staff retreat, webinar, mentoring, or public speaking --  or just about any other reason!  Don't hesitate to e-mail or phone me.

Please visit my LinkedIn page to listen to a 10-minute podcast or watch a 10-minute video interview where I talk about data sanity.

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